Page 49 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 23

Basic HTML Version

— T
h e
ew ish
iv is ion
raw material for the study of Jewish social history, and contained
many works on Jewish sectarian movements. An important group
of Yiddish books and periodicals was transferred to the Jewish
Division when the Aguilar Free Library became part of the
Circulation Department of the New York Public Library in 1903.
This formed the kernel of the large Yiddish holdings of the
Mr. Schiff contributed generously to current purchases, in
addition to leaving a bequest of $25,000, the interest on which
is still being used to acquire rare and standard works. In 1904
the Division was enriched by a small collection of works on
Jewish mysticism and especially Kabbalah, part of a larger be-
quest by Isaac Myer. No other significant major collection has
since been acquired en bloc. Rather, the Division has grown
painfully, book by book and lot by lot, by gift and purchase, to
become the present comprehensive balanced collection of 110,000
volumes. In this respect, its history contrasts with that of other
great Jewish libraries which are continually enriched and ex-
panded by absorption of libraries of many scholars and collectors.
In 1907, ten years after its formation, the Jewish Division
contained approximately 15,000 volumes. In 1913, two years after
the New York Public Library moved to its present site, it had
grown to 21,000 volumes. There was relatively little acquisition
during the next ten years, partly due to the first World War and
its aftermath. The great Jewish cultural upsurge following
World War I manifested itself soon in a tremendous increase of
readers in the Jewish Division. Then came the depression. T he
New York Public Library miraculously weathered the depression
of the 1930’s due to a number of magnificent gifts immediately
preceding that period. As a result the Jewish Division, along
with other divisions, was able to continue acquiring books need-
ed to round out its ramified interests, and to take advantage
of the low prices for antiquarian books pouring in from Central
and Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Near East.
The Workshop of the Scholar
A. S. Freidus is often quoted as having said that the Library
of the Jewish Theological Seminary is the museum, while the
Jewish Division of the New York Public Library is the workshop
of the scholar. He saw himself primarily as a reference librarian.
His goal was the gathering of standard works on every facet of
endeavor and not necessarily rare editions. The Jewish Theo-
logical Seminary has since acquired all the tools of a great work-
shop, while the Jewish Division, in addition to expanding and
strengthening its research facilities, has added the treasures of a